Right now into December is the perfect time to plant daffodils, hyacinths, tulips, and other spring bulbs. But if the pathetic selection offered by home centers leaves you cold, do I have a name for you – an outstanding mail-order nursery specializing in easy-to-grow heirloom bulbs you can’t get almost anywhere else.
It’s called Old House Gardens and since 1993, it’s been headquartered in a quaint old house in Ann Arbor, Michigan. That’s when its founder and “head gardener,” Scott Kunst, photocopied his first bulb catalog at Kinko’s and mailed it to 500 people.
“Strangers sent me hundreds of dollars,” he recalls. (Hmmm…maybe Grumpy should do his own catalog. Cat House Gardens?)
The Old House Difference OK, so why should you buy bulbs from this place? Two reasons. First, Old House Gardens offers dozens of rare, beautiful bulbs that have been handed down from generation to generation. Because mass merchandisers shun them, they survive today only because enlightened gardeners like you grow and share them. Second, unlike most bulbs companies that buy nearly all of their bulbs from growers in Holland, Old House Gardens gets many of its bulbs from small family farms and growers throughout the U.S. These bulbs do well here because they’re time-tested in our climates.
You Deserve the Best Because I think Grumpians deserve only the best plants for their gardens, I asked Scott to suggest a variety of favorite, old-fashioned bulbs that thrive in the South. (Many of them do just as well elsewhere.) Scroll down to see his expert picks (the photos are courtesy of Old House Gardens). If you like what you see, order soon, before they’re sold out.
(FYI – The Grump gets no kickback for his endorsement. He does, however, get a kick from champagne.)
Lady or Candy Tulip (Tulipa clusiana). I love this tulip! Striped red and white like a candy cane, it stands 10 inches high, blooms year after years, does great in containers and the ground, and is perennial from Boston to Mobile. Beat that!
Blue Roman Hyacinth. Cultivated since at least 1562, this beauty needs almost no winter chilling, so you can grow it in Florida and throughout the South. Its slender blooms are more delicate than the fat, plastic-looking blossoms of regular Dutch hyacinths and you often get several stems per bulb. Happy Roman hyacinth also multiplies readily, forming drifts. Grows 12 inches tall.
Twin Sisters daffodil (Narcissus x medioluteus). “Generally known everywhere,” wrote herbalist John Gerard in 1597. The absolute latest daffodil to bloom in my Alabama garden, usually in May. Gets its name from the fact that each stem carries two fragrant, white flowers with small yellow cups. Grows about 14 inches tall.
Byzantine glad (Gladiolus communis byzantinus). Usually found blooming in spring in cemeteries and old home sites, this screaming magenta, hardy glad is gaudier than Liberace at Moulin Rouge. Increases every year to form clumps that don’t need staking. Scott sells the best and rarest form, so don’t be shocked by the price. Think of it as single-malt Scotch for your garden.
‘Early Louisiana’ jonquil. When I first visited Celia Jones at Sisters Bulb Farm in Louisiana, I was amazed at the tens of thousands of incredibly fragrant, yellow jonquils that had naturalized across the fields. Celia calls them “Sweeties.” So do I.
Antique freesia (Freesia alba). Freesias were the flowers that Princess Saralinda, heroine of The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber (Grumpy’s all-time favorite book), wore in her hair. I always thought these fragrant, white beauties weren’t hardy here, but Scott says this one comes back year after year from the Lower South down into Florida. It’s my second favorite alba, second only to Jessica.